Phoenix Suns majority owner Robert Sarver has been suspended and fined by the NBA for racist, misogynist, and bullying practices during his tenure with the franchise. League sanction hasn’t stopped the tidal wave of reaction from high-profile luminaries, proclaiming that the one-year suspension and $10 million fine are not adequate given the severity of Sarver’s actions.
At the pinnacle of the criticism stands multi-time MVP LeBron James, voice and face of an entire generation of NBA players and fans. James tweeted the following statement today:
Read through the Sarver stories a few times now. I gotta be honest…Our league definitely got this wrong. I don’t need to explain why. Y’all read the stories and decide for yourself. I said it before and I’m gonna say it again, there is no place in this league for that kind of behavior. I love this league and I deeply respect our leadership. But this isn’t right. There is no place for misogyny, sexism, and racism in any work place. Don’t matter if you own the team or play for the team. We hold our league up as an example of our values and this aint it.
Phoenix Suns All-Star Chris Paul expressed similar statements:
Like many others, I reviewed the report. I was and am horrified and disappointed by what I read. This conduct especially towards women is unacceptable and must never be repeated. I am of the view that the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior. My heart goes out to all of the people that were affected.
But the most damning criticism may have come from Suns vice chairman Jahm Najafi, who issued an open letters to Phoenix fans reprinted by the Arizona Republic. In that letter, he called for Sarver’s resignation.
“Due to the NBA’s investigation and findings, I have no choice but to speak up on behalf of the hundreds of you who have been impacted by your interactions with Robert Sarver and the resulting investigation of his conduct. I first and foremost want to give my deepest thanks to all of you who garnered the courage to share your experiences, as difficult as it may have been, to help piece together a clearer picture of what work life must have been like for you over these past 18 years.
“There should be zero tolerance for discriminatory actions of any level, in any setting, let alone a professional one. There is no question that the findings determined that Mr. Sarver’s lewd, misogynist, and racist conduct had a substantial negative impact on you and has no place in our society. The report confirmed by multiple eyewitnesses that Robert Sarver used the “N-word” at least five times. The report confirmed Sarver engaged in conduct demeaning of female and pregnant employees. The report confirmed Sarver made crude and sexually inappropriate comments in professional settings. The report confirmed Sarver made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female employees and other women and made inappropriate workplace physical conduct toward male employees.”
WORDS AND ACTIONS MATTER.
“Similar conduct by any CEO, executive director, president, teacher, coach, or any other position of leadership would warrant immediate termination. The fact that Robert Sarver “owns” the team does not give him a license to treat others differently than any other leader. The fact that anyone would find him fit to lead because of this “ownership” position is forgetting that NBA teams belong to the communities they serve. Team investors are merely temporary stewards. If we, as sports leaders, are not held to the same standards then how can we expect a functional society with integrity and respect on any level? We owe it to you: employees, players, partners, and your families to provide the same positive workplace environment we would require of any other business.
“I cannot in good judgment sit back and allow our children and future generations of fans to think that this behavior is tolerated because of wealth and privilege. Therefore, in accordance with my commitment to helping eradicate any form of racism, sexism and bias, as Vice Chairman of the Phoenix Suns, I am calling for the resignation of Robert Sarver. While I have no interest in becoming the managing partner, I will work tirelessly to ensure the next team steward treats all stakeholders with dignity, professionalism and respect.”
These high-profile criticisms are the tip of the iceberg in what is becoming an ever-growing call for a stronger response from the NBA.